Thursday, June 25, 2009

Chérie: A dazzling meditation on time and change

Cross-posted from The Huffington Post

From the opening frames of Chérie, the viewer is drawn into an opulent, decadent world, at once foreign and familiar to those who have mixed with the denizens of high society in our own time. But the depiction of that world in director Stephen Frears' tour de force is no simple condemnation nor exaltation: the charms and moral ambiguities of France's Belle Epoch co-exist in this rendering of a gilded age at its apogee, most completely in the glowing figure of Michelle Pfeiffer as Léa de Lonval, an exquisite courtesan about to age out of her profession.

At its core, Chérie is a movie about time and the constancy of change -- a theme that could be esoteric and depressing, were it not for the stunning visual and aural landscape the filmmakers grant us, the stylized repartee that screenwriter Christopher Hampton draws from Colette's celebrated novel, and Pfeiffer's grounded, sexy and elegant rendering of the woman at the center of the film. Léa is both wise and playful, jaded and vulnerable, a ravishing beauty who looks every minute of her 49 years. In Léa, Pfeiffer offers a rendering of an aging woman such as I have never before seen on the big screen. Like Diane Keaton's character in Something's Gotta Give, she plays a woman with wrinkles who is undeniably sexy. But unlike Keaton's sweet and sexually uptight character, Léa is in full possession of her sexuality; she knows what she's got, knows she's still beautiful, yet has no illusions about society's contempt for the older woman as a sexual creature. Alone with her maid, preening before her mirror, Léa raises her arms above her head, and remarks, "Nice handles for such an old vase." So she opts to retire while she's still in demand.

Enter Chérie, played by Rupert Friend, who is the 19-year-old son of her rival, the retired courtesan Charlotte Peloux (Kathy Bates), still known to her by the pet name she bestowed upon him when he was a baby. Charlotte, a relic of her time, was a disinterested mother at best, and is now eager to deliver her spoiled, neglected and costly offspring into Léa's hands. She takes him in because she likes him, because she has something to teach him and because she wants a lover of her own choosing. He goes with her to her home in the south of France because he has grown bored with his life of debauchery in Paris, and winds up staying with Léa for six years, until Mama Charlotte contrives another plan for him -- one that will ensure her a handsome pension. Along the way, the worldly courtesan and the petulant young man fall in love, a love on which Father Time, if not Mama Charlotte, has imposed his limitations.

Chérie concerns itself at once with the peculiarities of time as it shapes human relationships; one cannot escape the age into which one has been born, after all. But within one's own time, a woman can opt to cling to old glories, or move with the current of the age. The turn of the last century heralded the coming modern age: the telephone and the automobile were among its innovations. Women's clothing changed in significant ways, as well: bustles disappeared from dresses, and dresses inflected with exotic forms eliminated the need for corseting. The glorious costuming of this film cleverly points this up: Charlotte is still dressed in the fussy, old style, while Léa glides about in Art Nouveau gowns that feature kimono-inspired bodices, loose sleeves, and skirts that are sumptuously draped, not frivolously gathered into confining waistlines. (I predict that Consalata Boyle's designs for Pfeiffer will be reflected in the 2010 fall fashions.)

The film speaks to changes still percolating in today's society. Because we meet Léa at the close of her courtesan career, we find her a liberated woman, one free to do as she pleases. She has money and beauty, a good mind and business acumen, and a young lover. She has the freedom to get her heart broken, and she does. Still, we're left with the sense that hers is a life fully lived.

Yet her young charge is still trapped in his mother's time, when an arranged marriage ensured one's future fortunes, and we find him enslaved to a most female fate while Léa possesses the independence to live in beauty. Chérie himself is a jarring character, a simpering young man with a love for pearls and fine fabrics, and ultimately far more vulnerable to the pain of love than his feminine paramour. Gender norms are reversed in Colette's story, which was written in 1920, in the aftermath of the Great War, but set in its ante bellum. Throughout Frears' film, change and indeed its backlash is suggested, and a sense of foreboding provides a faint undercurrent.

Though not every element of Chérie succeeds, it is a film that haunts the viewer days after the final credits have rolled. Special kudos belong to composer Alexandre Desplat for a stunning score, cinematographer Darius Khondji and production designer Alan MacDonald who, along with costumer Boyle, create a world into which the viewer longs to step, if only for one moment in time.

Chérie opens nationwide tomorrow, Friday, June 26th.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Media analysis: no women need apply?

When MediaBistro announced its upcoming panel discussion titled "Finding a Business Model for News and Online Media", it listed only white men as panelists, thus joining a list of other apparently well-meaning organizations whose leaders tend to see only men as media innovators. In MediaBistro's case, this is particularly ironic, since the pioneering Web-based all-things-media outlet and consulting company was founded by Laurel Touby, a woman.

The Women, Action & the Media (WAM!) community took issue with MediaBistro's treatment, issuing this letter, to which your humble blogstress signed her proper name:

Dear MediaBistro and Demand Studios,

We applaud your efforts to create an “an open discussion about the business models, innovation, and power of community that are changing journalism.” But your selection of presenters on this subject has forced us to wonder to whom, exactly, this discussion is open.

We won’t stand for another panel exclusively composed of white males when the future of our media is at stake. As members of Women, Action & the Media, we know all too well that white-male-dominated conversations produce white-male-dominated media models. We ask you to stand with us instead, to create a sustainable new journalism that includes and supports all of us, including women and people of color.

It’s not hard to find qualified women to serve on your “Finding a Business Model for News and Online Media” panel. Here are just a few we’ve come up with today:

Tina Brown, The Daily Beast
Ada Calhoun, Babble
Gabrielle Darbyshire, Gawker Media
Nicki Gilmour, The Glass Hammer, founder and CEO of Evolved People Media LLC
Erica Gruen, Quantum Media
Kathleen Hall Jameson, director, Annenberg Public Policy Center
Carol Jenkins, president, Women’s Media Center
Rita Henley Jensen, Women’s eNews
Esther Kaplan, The Nation Institute
Dori Maynard, president, The Maynard Institute
Gina McCauley, Blogging While Brown
Laurel Touby, your founder at
Sheryl Hilliard Tucker, executive editor, Time, Inc.
Joan Walsh, Salon
Tracy Van Slyke, The Media Consortium
Deanna Zandt, media technologist

Please let us know if you need help getting in touch with any of these exceptional women - we’d be very happy to help make those connections.


Veronica I. Arreola, Writer, Founding Board Member of WIMN
Julia Barry, media/Web producer and consultant
Sarah Blustain, senior editor, The New Republic
Tara Bracco, writer and founder of Poetic People Power
Anna Clark, freelance journalist
Denise Di Stephan, freelance writer
Ariel Dougherty, Media Equity Collaborative
Emily Douglas, editor, RH Reality Check
Gloria Feldt
Jill Filipovic, Feministe
Jaclyn Friedman, director, Women, Action & the Media
J. Goodrich, blogger and freelance writer
Nancy Gruver, founder & CEO, New Moon Girl Media
Mikki Halpin, author and contributing editor, Glamour
Carol Jenkins, president, Women's Media Center
Rita Henley Jensen, Women's eNews
Sue Katz
Elaine Lafferty, former editor-in-chief, Ms. magazine
Lucinda Marshall, director, Feminist Peace Network
Emily May,
Liz O’Donnell, freelance writer and AvantGuild member
Katha Pollitt, columnist, The Nation
Jennifer Pozner, founder and director, Women In Media & News (WIMN)
Miranda Spencer, freelance writer, editor, and media critic
Rebekah Spicuglia, media manager, Women’s Media Center
Adele M. Stan, independent journalist and Huffington Post blogger
Shira Tarrant, PhD, author, Men and Feminism
Tracy Van Slyke, The Media Consortium
Jayati Vora, Web editor, The Nation Institute
Andi Zeisler, editorial/creative director of Bitch
Jill Miller Zimon, freelance writer, Writes Like She Talks
Since the letter was sent, MediaBistro Tweeted that another panelist would soon be announced. To add your two cents, contact MediaBistro by clicking here.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Solstice!

Photo by Fergus McNeill; used through creative commons license

Hope the longest day of the year was a beautiful one for you, mes amis.

From the Times of London:

Druids began their incantations, Wiccan priestesses drew their cowls tight against the damp morning air and four half-naked Papuan dancers waved their hands in the air and went: “Woo, woo, woo”.

Only the guest of honour failed to put in an appearance at Stonehenge.

A record 36,500 people had gathered at the prehistoric monument on Salisbury Plain to watch the sun rise. So many turned out to celebrate the solstice that roads had to be shut and the vast field converted into a car park for 6,500 vehicles was full by 3am.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Marriage in DC: pride and prejudice

Here in our nation's steamy, sticky capital, as the annual Gay Pride celebration takes shape, temperatures are rising over the issue of marriage equality for queer folk. (Check out the Washington Blade for the skinny on the antics of the religious right's Rev. Harry Jackson, who was sent in by central casting to convince African-Americans that gays are their enemies.)

This essay by noted DC poet and cultural critic Reuben Jackson (who is not LGBT) aired today on WAMU radio. In his commentary, Jackson writes of his recent experience of anti-LGBT sentiment in a District restaurant, and the link between racial prejudice and anti-gay discrimination.


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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Right wing objects to Tiller murder investigation

The U.S. Justice Department has commenced a probe of the murder of Dr. George Tiller, the physician who has been targeted for years by members of the far right for his willingness, at great personal risk, to perform late-term abortions to women in need. And Wendy Wright, president of the Concerned Women for America, has a problem with that.

According to the right-wing Web site, OneNewsNow, Wright said:

"This may be more of a nefarious effort than it appears on its face," she exclaims, "that in fact, the Department of Justice may be trying to smear pro-lifers, as if we all belong in the same camp, as if we all advocate violence, when it's [actually] just the opposite."
The proof of the Obama adminstration's nefarious machinations, according to the right, is the fact that it has not dispatched U.S. Marshals to military recruiting stations in light of the recent murder of a recruiter by a man who says he is a convert to Islam. But U.S. Marshals have been dispatched to protect women's health care clinics in the wake of the Tiller murder.

Let's see: the murder of a doctor by the member of a movement that has a long history of violence against the employees of facilities that provide abortion services to women is somehow unworthy of measures taken to protect other employees of such facilities against any future life-threatening assaults -- all because the U.S. Marshals have not been called to protect the U.S. military.

Furthermore, the murderer of the soldier is under investigation by the Justice Department -- by the FBI Joint Terrorist Task Force, to exact. The investigation began before the murder; unfortunately, there apparently wasn't evidence enough to lock him up at the time of the attack.

The comparison between the Justice Department's actions on behalf of abortion providers and its efforts to stem jihadist terrorism is a classic right-wing tactic: when one's wrongs are exposed, change the subject, even if false analogies are required to do so.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Well, that didn't take long...

No sooner did your blogstress's Huffington Post piece about Ann Coulter's encouragement of violence against doctors who perform abortions then some wag who refused to even name your ecrivaine, called yours truly both dishonest and not reasonable for charging la Coulter with incitement.

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